Booker Introduces Bill to Legalize Pot, Encourage States to Do the Same

Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker / Getty Images
• August 1, 2017 2:54 pm

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) introduced legislation Tuesday to end the federal ban on marijuana and encourage states to begin legalizing it.

Booker's legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to drop marijuana from the list of schedule one drugs, which would decriminalize it at the federal level, the Hill reports.

The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 would also encourage states with disproportionate marijuana-related arrests or incarcerations of poor or minority citizens to legalize marijuana by denying them federal funds for law enforcement and jailing. Money not given to those states would be put into a "community reinvestment fund" to help communities "most affected by the war on drugs."

The bill also would retroactively expunge previous federal marijuana convictions; those in prison for marijuana-related crimes could petition to get their sentences shortened.

Booker appeared on a Facebook Live event, where he justified the bill based on the harms associated with the sometimes severe penalties for marijuana-related crime, penalties that often disproportionately impact poor and minority Americans.

"I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business," Booker said.

He also attacked the hypocrisy of politicians who use drugs, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

"Here in the United States Congress you have conversations with people who admit, readily admit, using drugs," he said. "Look, I have seen children, young teenagers, getting arrested, saddled with criminal convictions for the rest of their lives, for doing things more minor, in terms of drug use, than two of our last three presidents admitted to doing."

Booker slammed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his stated goal of more thoroughly enforcing federal drug laws.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) introduced a similar bill in 2015, which died in the Judiciary Committee after gaining no cosponsors. Although the Senate is unlikely to be any friendlier to Booker's bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee did move last week to protect state level medical marijuana regimes from interference by the Justice Department.